Petaluma People Services Center is all about community members coming together to take care of one another.

Founded in 1974 by a group of community leaders, PPSC’s goal has been to provide support to those facing a variety of issues, such as poverty, physical and mental abuse, chemical dependence, violence, isolation and mental illness.

“As we continue to age and continue to see people struggling with housing and hunger or mental health issues, we need to rely on the community even more for volunteers and to make that commitment to donate so we can continue to look at gaps in community services and build programs to meet the needs of our residents,” said Elece Hempel, executive director of PPSC. “It’s all about community. We all have to look around and say ‘how can I help?’”

PPSC serves thousands of people in the Petaluma community through a collection of 53 programs in five significant core areas: senior services; homeless prevention and fair housing; employment and training; adult and youth counseling; and Petaluma Bounty. Within those core areas lies a myriad of services and connections to services provided by other agencies all designed to help meet a variety of needs. PPSC’s services are available to all Petaluma residents.

“Our history goes back to having all these services under one roof, and we’ve stayed true to that,” said Hempel. “The value is that when a client comes through the door for a fair housing issue and realizes that they may have issues in mental health that are not addressed or they’re dealing with hunger or issues with being employed — this model allows us to do direct referral to the services they need. I often say that PPSC is the safety net — it’s an integrated mesh of community services we provide under one roof.”

Counseling services offered through PPSC include parenting, family therapy, general counseling for youth and adults, child welfare, Veterans Affairs Patient-Center Community Care Program Network and counseling for the homeless at Committee on the Shelterless.

“We have counseling programs that are bilingual and bi-cultural,” said Hempel. “We have programs for people who are divorcing and how to co-parent. We do a lot of depression screenings for seniors and help connect them to counseling or other socializing type programs.”

Through Petaluma Bounty, PPSC helps provide fresh produce to low-income families and seniors in Petaluma. The organization’s core Bounty programs include a network of community gardens; Bounty Hunters gleaning from back yard gardens, farms and food pantries; and the Bounty Farm Stand.

“Our Farmers Market Life program is a way for people on CalFresh to go to farmers markets and have access to fresh fruit and vegetables,” said Hempel. “We’re running the program not just in Petaluma, but also throughout Marin and Sonoma counties.”

PPSC’s senior programs include the Senior Cafe, adult day care, case management, iRide and Meals on Wheels, which provides meals to homebound seniors. Hempel said that volunteers are always needed for both Meals on Wheels and iRide, a relatively new program where volunteers provide seniors with transportation to their appointments.

“I encourage people who are in the work world to think about volunteering for iRide and Meals on Wheels,” said Hempel. “It takes about two hours and I would hope that employers would work around that and give their employees the necessary two hours off every three weeks to go and drive. It’s the same requirement for the iRide program and the number of seniors who need rides has doubled.”

PPSC’s housing services are provided through Fair Housing Sonoma County, which offers help to tenants and landlords with a variety of issues.

“We do a lot of landlord-tenant education, mediation and communication as housing discussions become more at the forefront of what people are paying attention to regarding housing and the lack of it in Sonoma County,” added Hempel.

A new program PPSC is involved with is Share Sonoma County. The countywide program pairs seniors living alone in their homes with other seniors who need an affordable place to live.

“After their family has grown, seniors want to sell their home and move to a smaller home, but they can’t do that in Sonoma County because there’s no place affordable to move to,” said Hempel. “They may have lost their spouse, their kids may not be here in the community or they may be struggling to stay in their home because it’s not affordable to cover utilities and feed themselves. They may be lonely. This program partners with not only the homeless shelters, but PEP Housing to find seniors who would be interested in sharing a home with another senior in the area. We’ve had quite a bit of success with it.”

PPSC also provides employment services for adults and youth through SonomaWorks, Youth Link’s Sonoma County Youth Ecology Corps, Petaluma Day Labor Initiative and Grads of Life.

“It costs a lot of money to do all of these programs,” said Hempel. “When I started here 12 years ago we were serving 60 meals a day. Now we serve more than 250 meals a day. The dollars we get to provide these services from the federal, state and county funds, however, has stayed completely flat. What we rely on is the community to step up, and I will say our community is one full of great givers. Seniors services has one of the biggest gaps for funds.”

PPSC’s fundraising events include the annual Neon Rose Golf Tournament and the Rock N’ Bowl. The organization’s newest fundraising project is 1,000 Bowls, where members of the community paint ceramic bowls to be auctioned off at an event on Nov. 27 at Hermann Sons Hall. Bows created by the community will be for sale throughout the day. There will also be a silent auction for fine art pieces. There will be food, and music will be provided by Abe Train.

The hope is to sell six bowls for $10 or more each, which would provide daily meals and care for one senior per week. One-hundred bowls sold would provide daily meals to about 16 seniors. One-thousand bowls would provide daily meals to 161 seniors.

To learn more about the 1,000 Bowls project, to volunteer or to make a donation, call PPSC at 765-8488 or go online to

(Contact Yovanna Bieberich at On Twitter @Yovanna_Ar gus.)